Monday, April 27, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Knight of the Burning Pestle

I ended up touring the Globe Theatre in London twice. I was supposed to see Knight of the Burning Pestle twice, too, but that idea got shot down quickly, as my wife had no interest in seeing authentic Jacobean Theatre by beeswax candlelight.

I can’t imagine why. 

Needless to say, I was excited to see Knight of the Burning Pestle at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre which is very Globe adjacent in London, England. Also, there’s a BBQ Joint right across the way - of course that’s another post. But it’s a pretty authentic theatre, and this was supposed to be a pretty funny show.

Of course, I didn’t expect the standing...

Let me back up a little bit, as part of the whole London Theatre Tour, we of course went to go look at the Globe, a replica of where Shakespeare put on some of his most famous plays. I had already gone to tour it during my vacation a few weeks earlier for Christmas, but I was touring again, this time in my official capacity as “student” and less in my capacity as “Shakespeare enthusiast.” 

Also, I say “replica” because there have, in fact, been three Globe Theatres total. The first one was was burned down when the special effects for one show ended up getting way out of hand. The second one was torn apart after the Puritans decided that theatre and entertainment was evil, and sometime just before they decided to take that trip over here to America to give us their own special brand of deciding things were “evil.” Eventually, Sam Wanamaker decided he’d had enough, and made his own Globe with donations because that’s what you do when you’re dedicated: You just go out and do it.

However, in Shakespeare’s day Theatre wasn’t popular enough (remember: They were totally cool with just letting it be torn down because “evil”) to really merit having it indoors, plus there was that whole thing of Thomas Edison not being born for another 100 years, which really handicapped his ability to create a light bulb sooner. As theatre grew in popularity, some of it was moved inside and done by candlelight. Since this was “December in London” and the weather in December in London is... well, it’s pretty horrible... the Globe itself wasn’t having anything outside, but instead was inside the playhouse, all done by candlelight.

That brings us to our presentation of the Knight of the Burning Pestle. In order to make it as authentic as possible, some of the cheaper “seats” were actually just spaces to stand behind a metal bar and look over the edge to see most of what was going on. 

Guess which “seats” the group-rate college students got?

Knight of the Burning Pestle is a play about a group of players trying to put on a production of another play, called The London Merchant. An angry Grocer and his wife are sitting in the front row and decide they don’t want to see that play, rather they want to see a play that glamorizes the grocing lifestyle, so they get the players to add their man Rafe into the production and add an entirely new section called “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” (a pestle, for those of who who like me didn’t know what it was until we were told by the handsome Rick Davis, is what’s used to mix herbs in a bowl called a mortar. Grocers would use them.) The London Merchant is a pretty standard tale about a rich dude that won’t let his daughter marry who she wants, with a sub-plot about an old man named Merrithought who throws his money away living a happy lifestyle and his wife leaving him because of it.

Sore legs aside, this one stands out as one of my favorites we saw while we were in London. Firstly, it was the funniest. I mean, part of the plot was a guy dancing in his underwear because he’s lost everything. “Merriment and mirth/will keep you from the Earth” was his refrain, and we sang it for a while as we trudged back across the bridge to catch our bus, legs on fire from standing for three hours. 

The cast took full use of the minimalist stage, coming out into the audience, even coming out to taste some of the ice cream of one of the random audience members that got a seat. Because the “audience” is part of the show, there’s a lot of nods and winks to the audience. 

This play was written by a playwright that wrote around the same time as William Shakespeare and was intended as a parody of the chaste romantic plays that were all the rage at the time. The “pestle” is often used as a double etendre, and one of my favorite exchanges involves the grocer’s wife (not forgetting names here... her character name is “grocer’s wife”) lamenting the loss of a child and Rafe offering to “give her a new one.” So the comedy is pretty funny, and the cast worked hard to ensure that everyone was in on the joke.

Overall, this was one of the more interesting experiences from my trip to England. It was a play as close to the Globe as I was able to see, being that it was cold outside, and I didn’t want to spend too much time standing outside. It was interesting seeing a play performed that I wasn’t familiar with from Shakespeare’s day, and still getting the joke because of the skill of the players. And it was just interesting to see something that is a parody, one of my favorite genres of today and how it translates across the page.

Like I said, this was one of my favorite plays. Some people were a bit divided on it because it did go all over the stage, and yes, we missed some of it from our unique vantage points atop the stage.

But it was a lot of fun. No one can argue that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Doing Laundry

            Overseas travel can be fun. You get to see a culture, completely different from your own. You can explore things only seen in movies, pictures, or that you’ve read about in books. You can even immerse yourself completely in the fact that you are exploring a new world. But at some point, you’re going to have to face a harsh reality. No, not that you have to come home.

            You’re going to have to do laundry.

            When I embarked on my two-week mission to London, I packed sensibly. Two pairs of sturdy pants to bring me through my adventures (one trusty reliable pair and a back-up, should they prove to not be so trusty), and enough shirts and delicates to bring me through the week mark, because, when you’re backing for a two week journey you realize that you don’t have enough clothes to really carry you through two weeks without needing to do laundry. Or you don’t own a suitcase that will HOLD two weeks of clothes and all the Doctor Who stuff you’re going to bring back. It’s a harsh reality.

            Fortunately, I was in good company (with the not having a big enough suitcase to pack two weeks of clothes… the others with me weren’t as big Doctor Who fans so I don’t know what they brought back with them) so together, as a bonding experience, we all sought out a Laundromat in London.

            When you’re travelling to any new place, either foreign or domestic, sometimes you overlook the fact that it is a working city and that life is going on, even as you have the time of your life going to see a million plays or getting sweet backstage tours of the Opera House, the Young Vic, the Globe (twice)… This is also a reminder that I’ve got a LOT to write about in the whole “Bad Shakespeare Takes London Series.” But even if you go to Cleveland to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Pawnee, Indiana if it were a real place, you don’t think, “Hey, while I’m there I’m going to do a couple of loads just to see if the detergent smells different.”

            For the record, the Laundry detergent in London smells a little different.

            Together, my merry band of classmates and I decided to seek out a Laundromat and get our laundry done. Step one, of course, was finding a place within walking distance, because at that point none of us were going to drag our dirty laundry on the tube or bus, and getting a taxi was out of the question because London being London, they would probably charge us extra for the privilege of sitting in their backseat, clothes on our laps.

            There was rumor… fabled rumor, mind you… of a place that you could drop of your laundry, and get a student discount. Alas, we were unable to locate it. (Or I was, but much later, which didn’t help very much.)

            We were eventually directed down the street to a Laundromat that was nestled right across from a pub, because just about everything in London is across from a pub, but we were told to go grab a pint as our wash was going through the cycle.

            Hey, here’s something else you don’t consider. When you’re doing laundry in a place that’s familiar to you, you have things like “detergent” or “laundry baskets”, so even if you have to take your stuff on public transportation or in a car, it’s easy to carry. You don’t really think about that when you have a suitcase that is rapidly filling full of Doctor Who stuff, so you do the best you can with the few baskets you can find. In my case “basket” was “about four flimsy plastic bags” and detergent was “what my kind roommate left me.”

            Let me pause here to point out that I am well aware that not everyone has a washer/dryer in their apartment or house, and that they have to haul their laundry every week. My point in this is simply to communicate the fun of doing it while in a foreign country.

            So, we all walked down the street, with our laundry much heavier than we had originally though, as the clouds began to darken and we realized at any moment they could open, spewing rain thus making our washing kind of moot. We eventually found the Laundromat (across from the pub, as promised) and just around a rather shady looking corner. Come to think of it, I don’t know that I have seen a Laundromat that wasn’t around a shady looking corner.

            That’s when we learned our biggest lesson: coins only, and the Laundromat shut down around 5. Well, not “shut down” as in “no longer staffed and was pretty much a free for all.” I am happy to report that we all managed to get our coins, hopped on machines, and proceeded to wash our clothes.

            Then, the boredom sets in.

            See, at this point we had all been in London together for about a week and some change, including the weekend, and we had all roomed together, taken most of our meals together, and seen about four plays while having class every day together. That’s a LOT of togetherness, and we were about to spend five more days also together. Now, normally, in that situation I’d bring a book. But, I had spent five days with this cool group of people, and I didn’t want to be rude, so we all did our best to make the most of it.

            One person put on music, because we were the only ones in there. We had our impromptu dance party/laundry session. We gingerly tested the machines, seeing how much money it ACTUALLY took to wash and dry out clothes. We shared detergent, which I managed to get on some of my clean clothes, so I know I smelled like lavender for part of my trip.

            At one point, a nice gentleman who was used to doing his laundry in solitary on Friday nights happened in, and was a bit surprised at the large group of Americans now taking the machines, having their dance party. He was a nice, guy, actually, of course, the only thing he knew about America was that “Some guy named George Bush was President there once, right?” He did throw out a few suggestions of places to check out, but I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think I did. It was a nice conversation, however to be completely honest with you my mind was on trying to catch my train to Edinburgh.

            You know, it’s funny, I went to a lot of places while in London. I got to live out a lot of dreams, too, like visiting Shakespeare’s house, walking on his footsteps. I even met Bubbles, the Shakespeare cat that gave us his own guided tour of Anne Hathaway’s house. (The Shakespeare wife, not the actress.) But if I had to put a stamp on the most memorable experience, it would have to be this little trip to the Laundromat. It was with a group… a good group of friends. It was really the first time I didn’t feel like I was just staying in London, it felt like I belonged in London. I was doing laundry with friends, then I was going to catch a train out to Scotland for the weekend. It was probably the first time I’d felt at home in a long time.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: The Future of Us

Let’s pretend you can go 20 years a back in time, and you try to describe Facebook to them. “So, there’s this website, right? And we all log onto it, and we can see how anyone we ever met was doing. Even if we met them in passing!” It might be hard to explain to them just how it works. If you talk about looking at it on your phone they’ll look at you funny, because even if they have a cell phone, they don’t have internet on it. Myspace and Friendstr are still a few years off. Even logging on tot the internet in a way that doesn’t sound like a cartoon is a pipe dream, or it means you have sound turned down.

And watch out if someone wants to use the phone. That just won’t happen.

That’s the concept of the Future of Us, a young adult novel by Jay Asher (who also did the excellent 13 Reasons Why… and you should probably read that) and Carolyn Macker. Josh and Emma are typical teenagers in 1996, when Jost gets one of those free AOL CD-Roms that promised the internet. If you didn’t live back then, they started out seeming exclusive, but they were EVERYWHERE. We eventually used them as frisbees and to thatch roofs. Anyway, because it’s a Young Adult Novel, Josh has feelings for Emma, and they’re close friends. He’s already admitted this to her, and they’ve started to grow apart because of it. But, of course, his mom makes him bring over the CD-ROM so she can start using the internet. She boots it up and sees… Facebook. Of course, it doesn’t exist yet, so what they see is a glimpse into the future. Now, each decision will lead to a new and different life for them, including one where they’re no longer friends. 

I actually really enjoyed the concept of this book, even if it did hit a lot of the cliche marks about love  and time travel. I really enjoyed it more for the role of Emma, and I felt she should have been more the central character rather than focusing dually on her and Josh. The whole “he’s her friend, he has a crush on her!” thing was a little cliche, and it took away from the core of the story, which was Emma learning her destiny, looking into the future, and finding out… she wasn’t really happy.

We don’t think about that a lot abut whether we’ll be happy in the future. Back when I was studying how to be a teacher, I would sometimes fantasize about zipping ahead magically 2 years into the future and becoming a teacher. I can even look back at my own facebook statuses, which include in 2010 being happy when I got the acceptance letter telling me I made it into the program. I didn’t know what the next five years held for me, that it would take me down this interestingly rocky path.

Emma is like that. She keeps logging onto Facebook each time finding a new and different future in front of her, some of them kind of dark and full of loneliness. She keeps hitting that button, hoping to find something different, but doesn’t even as she works to make things happen. Josh, on the other hand, is working to make things happen, but his story kind of skips over his own revelations.

But it is this uncertainty towards happiness that sort of strengthens her as a character. I wish the focus wasn’t so much on how she was going to (spoilers) eventually end up with Josh. Sort of like a reverse “don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. She would see different futures where he ended up with someone else, and her own life growing more and more miserable. I feel the whole “Josh” thing was a bit of a letdown in the long run, because she didn’t really “learn” from it so much as just “didn’t want to see him with someone else.” And it’s unfortunate, because that weakened her a little bit, and took away from a brilliant character who wasn’t just a one note character at the start. The whole “Josh likes me” thing weighing with her heavily, and she was dealing with it.

I put this in the category of a “sorta wasted potential book” but at least executed really well. I liked the reminders of 1996, and the sheer insanity as they dealt with the things around them not knowing words like “Netflix” or the complexities of losing one’s phone. (The former is unlivable without, the latter is… well, absurd in its own way.) I just wish the focus had shifted more to Emma as a character, who was dealing with her own problems and seeing the result in real time, and not leading directly to a romantic payoff as the “reward.” 

I sound so jaded when I say it like that. Of course, though, I’m happy the two characters ultimately found love, I just wish it was through a different way. (Like maybe a flash forward to how she reacted when the REAL Facebook came into play.)

Overall, I think this is the first book I’ve read in this project that I don’t have extremely strong opinions about. Its worth a read, even if to get some more Jay Asher in your life (and you should) and it’s an interesting concept to explore. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Treasure Island

The stylized parrot is trying to draw your eye away from the production...

So, I know of the last few weeks I’ve been talking about Stratford Upon Avon (with a brief interlude for some Fast and Furious action…) but I want to keep talking about the plays I saw while I was there. So, I’m going to the… let’s say least enjoyable? I’m going to go with least enjoyable… play that I saw while I was there. I’m actually going to do something a little bit different for this particular edition of Bad Shakespeare (Since I’ve been writing a LOT lately, and my little fingers need a rest) Yes, this trip was an educational one. I had to write seven papers about my experience. What follows is the critical review of one of the plays I saw while I was there. Yup. I turned this in. For a grade.

Ladies and Gentlemen, after weeks of joking about it, I present to you my review (as turned in to Rick Davis) of Treasure Island.

That Kiss. 

There is a lot to discuss in the most recent adaptation of Treasure Island currently playing  (note from the future: It's no longer playing) at The National Theatre. The show itself, a re-telling of the young adult classic adventure novel about the search for the treasure of Captain Flint, takes advantage of the National Theatre’s full technical capabilities. Sets frequently disappear beneath the stage, or rise to reveal the interior of the ship taken by young Jim Hawkins, her crew, and the pirate Long John Silver (Played by former Doctor Who Companion and guy who got to kiss Karen Gillian, Arthur Darvill. Lucky jerk.)as they search for the lost treasure. Lights appear in the sky to show off constellations. Ben is constantly diving under the stage through is own makeshift tunnels that he has dug throughout the island. 

That is not a typo, by the way, in this version “Jim” is played by a young woman, and is referred to as a young woman on the stage frequently, complete with a quickly glossed over backstory to explain why “Jim” is called “Jim”. Of course, that leads to one of the more unsettling moments that I am still trying to process.

That Kiss. 

Treasure Island is a story that is aimed at kids, and yes, this production certainly caters to that demographic. Jim moves to center stage to explain certain parts of the plot, there are a lot of colorful characters and members of the crew, even if they are dispatched as the plot requires, and the fight scenes, in a play mostly about pirates, is toned down. There is even a recurring gag in which Jim expresses a fear about the man with the one leg, the music gives a sharp note, the lights change, and all of the cast members share in a dramatic moment.

But then there’s that kiss…

As mentioned earlier, Treasure Island made a gender switch with Jim in this particular version. There are different ways it can affect the plot: discussions about whether a girl in the 1800’s should be traveling on a ship in search of gold. But as mentioned, a lot of it is glossed over, initially giving me the impression that the gender switch was done more for necessity - this was the best actress available - than to make a statement. This is fine, other characters, such as Doctor Livesly, a character that is traditionally played by a man is played by a woman in this case, but the gender switch isn’t commented upon. It was the production’s intention to mention Jim, in this case, was a girl. 

One of the subplots in other (better) versions in Treasure Island was the relationship between Long John Silver and Jim as Jim looks for a surrogate father in the wake of his own father’s death. This bonding does happen in this version, right up until it’s time to find the treasure. Then Long John Silver kisses Jim in what I can only say is a very uncomfortable moment, at least for me. That one kiss completely changes the whole subtext of that relationship, going from one of a father son to something a little more disturbing and sinister. No longer is Long John Silver a pirate who can be redeemed in some fashion, but now he’s more of a sinister predator. He can no longer be redeemed. He is course is set, so to speak. 

It is moments like this that cause the problems for this production of Treasure Island. Rather than rely on the set work, which is impressive, particularly in later moments during the search for the treasure, the choices of the actors to play the characters as broad caricatures of pirates rather than real people takes away from the emotional depth that should be inherent in the play, even one playing to such a wide audience.This kiss isn’t commented upon again, despite the fact that there is a brief moment of reaction. And it took me out of the play, completely. I was no longer invited into this world, which had been painstakingly constructed with a beautiful set. And then I was reminded that I was never invited by any of the characters to spend time in this world to begin with. That kiss was just the final reminder of that fact. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Happy Third Birthday, Bad Shakespeare!

Exactly three years ago, I did my first post. It was about bunnies, gritty origin reboots, and a host of various other things you’d expect this blog to be about. Looking back, it was about my decision to just go for broke and go be a High School English Teacher, a quest once derided by someone who sarcastically told me to “reach for the stars.”

The blog has evolved a lot since then, originally wanting to focus on only teaching and education issues. It’s grown to be pretty much whatever I want it to be (which is probably why I don’t have a very large audience. Even my family members have admitted they don’t read it anymore.) But a lot has happened in those three years since I first sat down and said, hey... why don’t I start a blog?

I really debated about WHAT I should make this post about. Should I make it a mad-cap recap of everything that’s happened to me in three years. (Which is a lot.) Should I make it a solemn occasion, one in which I reflect about the past and what it means for the future? Or should I simply write a few words, and then move to Wednesday’s post, which is all about that Shakespeare?

It’s been three years. I’ve decided that I’m going to do the madcap recap. It’s more fun that way.

So, the road so far (imagine “Carry On My Wayward Son” playing while you read this. It will make you think that I’m in Supernatural. I don’t talk about it much, but I’m a big fan of the show Supernatural. Dean rules. And Jared Padelecki really messed with my mind being in a second show where there’s a “Dean” and he doesn’t play “Dean” but he did in Gilmore Girls. Jerk.)

Anyway... so back in 2010 I decided I was going to be a teacher, mostly born out of the fact that I was the world’s most okayest Government Contractor, and I was must more interested in literature, Shakespeare, and less interested in form 11B that needs to be filled out in accordance with regulation D, subsection Q in the official handbook. That I helped put together. Badly, but I helped put together.

Around 2012, I decided to start a blog about my adventures in teachering! Or becoming a teacher. I had been accepted to George Mason University, which originally accepted me on the basis that I wanted to be a teacher, and then somewhere along the line I strayed a little bit from that first path because, well, I get easily distracted. But there I met some cool instructors, including Professors Pellegrino, Zenkov, and Burtons-Peters, whom I still speak with today. Also who’s names I don’t really discuss names on here a lot, but I really wanted to point them out, because they’re three totally awesome people who continue to help me, even if they don’t have to. (Two of them wrote letters of recommendations; which put me into English Graduate School.)

Around 2013 I started to move the focus of my blog to be “whatever the hell I felt like writing that day” because education issues are important, but it’s a lot to take in, and as I learned, way more political than it needs to be. Seriously, folks, want to improve education? Let the experts deal with it.

One of the better changes was the focus on something that I love which are movies, and I started focusing on the AMC Best Picture Showcase, and of course, my dividing of the Three Movie Seasons and their Patron Saints... Joss Whedon for Summer Movie Season; Nicolas Cage for Good Bad Movie Season; Tom Hanks for Prestige Season. Good times.

Around 2013 I started having problems with the Praxis 2, which is this big test that once you pass, it means you’re going to be a great teacher and be able to solve all the world’s problems in one hug. Of course I’m kidding, it’s a standardized test that everyone who wants to teach in their field needs to take because the teaching classes focus on how to teach rather than the content in the field you’re teaching, and oh, good there’s a test you can take that will prove that you know everything. If you have trouble passing, fortunately, the company that makes the test and sells it to the local Government has classes you can take and materials you can buy for a small severe markup. How lucky. 

I continued to take the test, going so far as to get yet another job back as the world’s okayest Government Contractor (I want to point out that the problem was with me, not where I worked. I still loved everyone I worked with... well, most of them... but the problem was that I wasn’t very good at my job, it requiring very little need to interpret Shakespearean plays. So... you’re awesome, guys. I wasn’t.) while I continued to use those materials to take and re-take the test, eventually falling back on a source that taught me how to game the test and eventually pass. 

I passed. That officially meant I was ready for my internship. 

From last class to internship, I made roughly 999 Nicolas Cage references on the blog. This is number 1000! Yay! Also, during this break, I took the time to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month, focusing on a slacker and his buddies trying to take out an evil Nicolas Cage with the help of James Franco. It was pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to expanding it later.

Anyway, I started my internship, bright eyed and ready to take on the world, knowing I’d be the best teacher ever. Then, I started to realize that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would. As someone pointed out, this is the honeymoon time, and if you’re not enjoying the honeymoon, then why are you doing it. I got low. Got dark. And eventually, started seeing a therapist because I really wasn’t myself. It was bad, people. Very bad. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t following what I wanted to do, which was a lot more Shakespeare interpretation, so I quit my internship in a not so dramatic manner, but still applying to be an English Major.

That’s where we are now. I’ve been to England, I’m getting ready to go take Ireland in what promises to be an awesome program involving writing and hopefully Lucky Charms, and I’m still watching movies at a professional level.

3 years, four jobs, two graduate programs, a house, an apartment, three countries, (four if Scotland had voted for independence), three Spidermen, more movies than I can count, and one dream later... here I am. It’s been a long road. It’s been a weird road. But it’s been an interesting road.

So without further ado and no more gilding the lily, I raise a glass (metaphorical if you’re reading this really early in the morning. Or do. I’m not here to judge) to you, Bad Shakespeare. The Blog I’m using to chronicle all of my various adventures. 

       Also, I mentioned three names up top, but I also want to thank all of you who have helped me through this time. My parents who keep letting me dream and as Tina Fey put it "Gave me a confidence that far outshines my abilities".  My wife, Marissa, who puts up with "I'm a teacher, no I'm a swim coach, no I'm a [insert crazy idea of the week]…" To my very good friends, Jake, Melissa, Jerome, Kimothy, Beppe, Jeffrey, Emma, Kati… you all rock, and thanks for hanging out with me and making sure I don't go do things on my own I probably would be doing. Particularly Jerome and Kim, who go see all the stupid movies with me, and yes, putting up with "BUT IT'S NICOLAS CAGE". Thanks to Rick Davis and EVERYONE who went to London for making the "old, English Major Graduate Student" felt welcome and didn't have a single meal alone. (Except in Stratford, but that was by design.) Thanks to Kumutha and Beej, who understand my complex Doctor Who fan-ness, and ensure I get my daily dose of it, even though we've met in person maybe once. Or twice. Thanks to Sharon, Leslie, and Laura for helping me with jobs on countless occasions. My successes are possible because of all of you, and I'm aware of that.

      And also, a special, heartfelt thanks to ALL of you who read this blog. I wouldn't be doing this without you.

      With all that I’ve done in three years, it’s incredible to think about where I’ll be in three more. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: I Was The Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey

Think about the different between a cat and a dog for a moment. Dogs are fun loving bundles of energy that are happy to see you, and pretty much just want love. Cats, on the other hand, want you to bring them food and if do not bring them food fast enough, you probably will become their food. And yet, we’ve invited them both into our homes. We classify them both as “pets.” But one loves you unconditionally, and one puts up with your presence long enough to be fed, maybe scratched behind the ears, and sleeps 20 hours a day.

So the idea of a megalomaniacal cat as seen in Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey’s Graphic Novel, I Was The Cat is far fetched only insofar as it seems unlikely that a cat would be awake long enough to attempt to take over the world. 

I Was The Cat is the story about Allison Breaking, a blogger with problems. (Well beyond the stupid name, I’m guessing.) She is almost broke, and her blog “Breaking News” (Oh, NOW I get it) isn’t doing so well. So when she receives a phone call from a mysterious Burma asking her to write his memoirs, she can’t really refuse. Here’s the kicker: Burma is a cat. A cat on his ninth life, and he wants to chronicle how he, a simple house cat, has been wrapped up in many historical events, including romancing Audrey Hepburn and his stint running messages for the British in World War 1. He’s been a busy little animal.

Some of you may remember that I crossed paths with a book of Paul Tobin’s before… the sexually obsessed wasted premise Superhero novel Prepare to Die! I have to admit, I did a terrible English Major thing, and I judged a book by it’s cover. I walked into a brand new comic book store that apparently had been in a location in a mall (remember those, kids?) for a few months but for some reason I didn’t notice it. Upon my entrance, I was drawn to the graphic novel section and a book with a cat on the front. In the vague recesses of my mind, I remember hearing about this book, so I quickly purchased it. It was when I got home that I realized it was another Paul Tobin book. But, in fairness, I didn’t have a problem with the concept or writing of Prepare to Die! so I was willing to give this another chance.

Unfortunately, a lot of the problems of that book were here, too. (Not the sex part, thankfully. I don’t know I could have handled a sex-obsessed cat.) 

Let’s start with the good: this is a pretty fun book. It’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got what amounts to a James Bond type book but the focus is on the cat the villain is stroking as opposed to the man himself. It was interesting to see all of different lives of Burma, and how he was weaved within history. Plus, the characterization of Burma is awesome, he’s very aware of the ridiculousness of the situation. In fact, there’s an air of ridiculousness in the whole book, which I think is important. It’s when something takes itself too seriously that it becomes impossible to really enjoy. 

The art is pretty good, too. Dewey manages to work in his depiction of London as something that’s actually alive. There is always something go on in the background, people are talking, lives are being lived. It feels like the busy city that it actually is. He gets little details right that make the story worth reading. 

However… we need to talk about the ending. I’d say spoilers follow, but, well.. nothing happens.

The entire graphic novel feels like a prelude to something else. Or rather, it WOULD feel like a prelude to something else, if it was actually building towards something. In the story, it turns out Burma IS still trying to take over the world, having some complex scheme with food additives. Or something. There’s a spy trying to stop him, he doesn’t. And then the whole thing ends with Allison saying, ‘I’ll write your story” and, that’s it. Of course, she’s been with him the entire time, learning the story, so it’s not so much as a revelation as I felt the publisher messed up and put a page in the back that needed to be towards the front. This is not a revelation, it’s the plot of the freaking book. Or lack thereof. 

It’s unfortunate, but this lack of a climax completely brings the book down. It’s fun learning about Burma’s previous lives. I mentioned the Audrey Hepburn thing earlier, because it’s actually a really fun sequence. But like the rest of the book… it doesn’t really go anywhere. What could have been an interesting story about a cat and the world is just sort of… meh. 

Tobin has shown once again that he’s brilliant when coming up with some GREAT concepts with books, but in the end, he doesn’t know how to execute them. Maybe if we had more spy scenes. Or maybe it could have been focused more on Allison’s dilemma of whether or not to work for him. To me, this is the worst kind of book, because it wastes potential. I can handle a bad book. What I can’t handle is a book that manages to waste a great premise and spend more time trying to be mysterious rather than tell a great story, or hit upon some of the better jokes. 

So, should you read this book? I don’t know. Ultimately it’s an interesting book. Yes, there’s the “Breaking News” pun that is so difficult to get through. I can’t really recommend it too much, though. There’s a joke from the Simpsons that I frequently use when describing movies. It’s a hot day and they want to go to the movies. So, they pull up to the theater and see a sign that says “FREE AIRCONDITIONING WITH MOVIE!” I sue that to talk about movies that aren’t terrible enough to be called awful but not good enough for you to run out and see now. That’s pretty much of which this book is the equivalent. I guess I just expected more from a book about our kitten overlords.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Training with the Royal Shakespeare Company

            Back when I was beautiful, I wanted to be an actor.

            Well, not an actor, per se, but I loved the theatre. Which is why initially ended up on a theatre tour of London that was specifically noted towards undergrads but I figured they’d allow me because I’m so handsome and awesome and why not? But I knew Rick Davis, the leader of our merry band of misfits, from back when I wanted to work with the theatre and be a director. I even continued this trip during my little jaunt down Education Way, when I took some classes in teaching theatre, because, well, I still love theatre in my heart.

            Of course, nothing could prepare me for the announcement that I would be taking classes with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  In Stratford Upon Avon. Mere Steps from where the man himself, Will.I.Am Shakespeare was born and got the inspiration to steal most of this most famous plays.

            (Hey, I’m the biggest bardolator you will find, but let’s remember that good writers write, great writers steal. It’s how we ended up with Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift.)

            Needless to say, after the squealing stopped (I found out about it in early December, I still had about a month and some change and that’s a long time to keep squealing like a fangirl at a One Direction concert. Are they still a thing? Zayn was carrying them for a while.) I was ready to get started to train with the Freakin’ RSC. The kings and queens of Shakespeare, the bard himself.

            I was a little bit nervous as I walked up the stairs that took me towards the theatre space where I would be training with them. As mentioned, the last time I was in any type of role that could be considered an actor, I really don’t think the world knew what a “Barack Obama” was just yet, and many of the members of One Direction were just learning to speak and had not yet been thrust into the spotlight.

            Sorry, this Zayn thing has really gotten into my head.

            Anyway, my group was filled with some really talented actors and actresses, and here I was, some guy that wanted to come along to analyze some plays and eat some of the best fish and chips on the planet. (And. They. Were. AWESOME.) But, I sucked it up, partly because I was graded, and partly because, let’s face it, it’s the freakin’ RSC, and how many other opportunities will I get to work with them.

            Once there, the lovely young lady who was leading the group started to talk to us about that night’s play, Love’s Labour’s Won or Much Ado About Nothing. As I refuse to refer to it as both for the rest of this post, I’m going with what the fancy British people told me to call it, and that is Love’s Labor’s Won, and since that’s a pain to keep typing with the whole apostrophe thing, I’m going to start abbreviating as LLW.

            So, the crux of LLW is the fact that it is one of Shakespeare’s most verbally challenging plays. It’s a prose play, which means limited use of iambic pentameter. So, this was going to be a lot of physical and verbal exercises.

            The whole thing started with us getting in a giant circle, and having to introduce ourselves with hand gestures. It helped at this point that we had all been hanging out for a week, so we all pretty much knew each other, but there were a few people who’s names I didn’t quite know and still managed to butcher when I did. (Sorry, Alessandro.) From there we moved on to movement, moving around the circle while saying everyone’s names, from there we started to move while NOT saying anyone’s name and cuing people non-verbally.

            Then we did this really cool exercise with some chairs where we tried to mimic each other as much as possible. It was a fun little trip as we tried to find more and more creative ways to top people, and ended up in a clap off with, once again, Alessandro. This was done because Benedict and Beatrice were constantly trying to one up each other in LLW with their dialogue, and we wanted to a visual cue of it.  It was actually pretty awesome.

            There were a few other exercises, but by the end we were performing scenes using narrators, and limited actors (in which I had a pretty interesting turn as Hero. This was Shakespeare. There were only male actors. I’d like to think I was the prettiest.)

            I’ve always been interested in acting along with the whole “play” thing (in which we capture the conscience of the king…) but this gave me a different understanding for it. All of the games, exercises, and whatever were geared toward better understanding the play we were about to see. And it started small. It started with just a few minutes calling each other’s names, getting to know each other. Because acting is very much a group activity. You have to play with the energy that you’re given. This is something that was very evident in the Scottsboro Boys, and something I’ll talk about when I recap their visit to our classroom. But especially a play like LLW, that lives and dies on the belief that these two characters are falling in love, or that three of these characters have been best friends for a while, or even when a certain Dogberry makes his presence known as the smartest…. Or luckiest guy in the room. These aren’t just random actions. These are cultivated from months of intensive work, from trusting your fellow actors, and from the risk taking that can only be had by making a fool of yourself a little bit.

            I’d like to think I held my own with the talented actors and actresses that allowed me to accompany them on the trip to train with the RSC. But we all have two bucket lists. One we admit to – Hey, I want to drop everything and take a trip to Japan one day… and another one that we don’t think will ever happen, not in our wildest dreams. “Hey, I want to take a trip to Japan and treat Nicolas Cage to a hot sake.” Training with the RSC, even for one day (let alone BEING IN Stratford Upon Avon) was on that second list. The Nicolas Cage list. And I got to do it.